President Barack Obama is sending a blunt message to Detroit automakers: To survive _ and win more government help _ they must remake themselves top to bottom. Driving home the point, the White House ousted the General Motors chairman as it rejected GM and Chrysler‘s restructuring plans.
Obama is set to elaborate on that message Monday when he announces what his White House told reporters over the weekend: Neither GM nor Chrysler submitted acceptable plans to receive additional federal bailout money.
GM chairman Rick Wagoner became the most conspicuous casualty of that decision, forced out Sunday as the White House indicated Detroit must make management and other changes if it hopes to survive _ and that the Obama administration will have a hands-on role in those changes.
Michigan Gov. Governor Jennifer Granholm said Wagoner “clearly is a sacrificial lamb” who stepped aside “for the future of the company and for the future of jobs.” She spoke on NBC’s “Today” show Monday.
Obama said the companies must do more to receive additional financial aid from the government.
“We think we can have a successful U.S. auto industry. But it’s got to be one that’s realistically designed to weather this storm and to emerge _ at the other end _ much more lean, mean and competitive than it currently is,” Obama said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” broadcast Sunday.
Frustrated administration officials, speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of Obama’s announcement, said Chrysler has been given a 30-day window to complete a proposed partnership with Italian automaker Fiat SpA. The government will offer up to $6 billion to the companies if they can negotiate a deal before time runs out. If a Chrysler-Fiat union cannot be completed, Washington plans to walk away, leaving Chrysler destined for a complete sell-off.
Shawn Morgan, a Chrysler spokeswoman, declined to comment ahead of Obama’s announcement.
For GM, the administration offered 60 days of operating money to restructure. Officials say they believe GM can put together a plan that will keep production lines moving in the coming years.
New directors will now make up the majority of GM’s board. Fritz Henderson, GM’s president and chief operating officer, became the new CEO. Board member Kent Kresa, the former chairman and CEO of defense contractor Northrop Grumman Corp., was named interim chairman of the GM board.
“The board has recognized for some time that the company’s restructuring will likely cause a significant change in the stockholders of the company and create the need for new directors with additional skills and experience,” Kresa said in a written statement.
The Obama administration move comes amid public outrage over bonuses paid to business leaders and American International Group executives _ set against a severely ailing economy.
GM failed to make good on promises made in exchange for $13.4 billion in government loans. Chrysler, meanwhile, has survived on $4 billion in federal aid during this economic downturn and the worst decline in auto sales in 27 years. In progress reports filed with the government in February, GM asked for $16.6 billion more and Chrysler wanted $5 billion more. The White House balked and instead started a countdown clock.
Two people familiar with the plan said bankruptcy would still be possible if the automakers failed to restructure. Those officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to make details public.
An exasperated administration official noted that the companies had not done enough to reduce debt; in some cases, it actually increased during this restructuring and review process. GM owes roughly $28 billion to bondholders. Chrysler owes about $7 billion in first- and second-term debt, mainly to banks. GM owes about $20 billion to its retiree health care trust, while Chrysler owes $10.6 billion.
GM and Chrysler employ about 140,000 workers in the U.S. In February, GM said it intended to cut 47,000 jobs around the globe, or almost 20 percent of its work force, close hundreds of dealerships and focus on four core brands _ Chevrolet, Cadillac, GMC and Buick.